One thing 16th century cartographers managed to get right was labeling the edges of their maps of Asia with "Here be dragons." On Indonesia's Komodo Island, there actually are dragons. And the best way to see the mostly uninhabited islands where the endangered Komodo dragons make their home is by hiring a wooden schooner and crew.
A Komodo skull is light, so it cannot generate a powerful bite or hold down a struggling victim, the way alligators do. “You’d expect them to be strong, but they’re not,” he said.
Instead, Dr. Fry argues, Komodo dragons slice open their victims, adding venom to the open wound. “If you keep it bleeding and lower its blood pressure, it’s going to lose consciousness, and then you can tear its guts out at your leisure,” he said.
On the five small Eastern Indonesian islands it is found, the lizards can kill animals far larger than themselves, including water buffalo, pigs and Timor deer.
Researchers now believe one of the keys to their killing ability is down to infectious bacteria in their saliva, which can kill prey.
However, the researchers now believe that the bacteria actually spreads from lizard to lizard as well, making the entire community more lethal as their bacteria spread to each other.
Maybe females could live without males, at least for Komodo dragons. These behemoths of the reptile world can produce babies without fertilization by a male, scientists recently discovered.
Currently at London's Chester Zoo, one mother-to-be named Flora [image] is waiting for her eight offspring to hatch, each one the result of a process called parthenogenesis--or a virgin conception.
Komodo Dragons are native to the islands of Indonesia, with adult males weighing over 100kg, and exceeding 3 metres in length. They have around 60 highly serrated teeth which are frequently replaced during their lifetime.
The researchers conducted a comprehensive study of the Komodo Dragon bite, employing computer techniques to analyze stress in a dragon's jaws and compare them to those of a crocodile. The dragons were found to have much weaker bites than crocodiles, but magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of a preserved dragon head revealed complex venom glands and specialised serrated teeth which create deep lacerations for entry of the venom.
"The bite is really quite incredibly weak for such a big lizard—less than you'd expect from the average house cat," said Stephen Wroe, an author of the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Anatomy.
If a Komodo actually tried to crush prey with its jaws, like crocodiles do, "it would break its own skull," he said.
The carnivorous Komodos, which live for up to 50 years, can grow to 10ft in length and weigh up to 200lbs. Though they rarely attack humans – and had not previously killed an adult for more than 30 years – an eight-year-old boy died after being mauled in 2007 and attacks are said to be increasing as their habitat becomes restricted. Their diet usually consists of smaller animals, including other members of their own species.
It’s thought there are about 5,000 living Komodo dragons in the wild. Many of these populations have been protected for thirty years. Volcanoes, earthquakes, poaching and habitat loss all continue to threaten these animals. Commercial trade of skins or specimens is against the law.
They are classed as VU (vulnerable) under the IUCN. Red List.
As the adults will eat virtually anything, the young are arboreal till at least eight months. Adults can climb trees, but are so heavy that young can climb much more easily. The eggs are laid after the hot summer of July and August although there can be two broods a year. Earth and leaves are used by the female to cover the dug-out nest but after hatching, parental interest is lacking, apart from possibly snatching a quick snack.
The Komodo dragon, Varanus komodoensis, is found only on five islands in eastern Indonesia. As few as 3,000 are believed to remain in the wild. Commercial trade in these lizards is pohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.